Times a changin

15 años de Playstation by Dekuwa
Christmas has changed for me over the years, from the excited, little, fresh-faced kid with Subbuteo (and tube of UHU glue) to the worn-out parent, with the jaunty paper hat and half-empty glass of beer.

One of the things that hasn’t changed, at least in our house, is the bumper, double issue Christmas Radio Times. Wouldn’t be Christmas without it. its a wonderful life by s_hermanCheck out some of the older covers, some are so familiar it feels like yesterday that I was thumbing through them to find It’s a Wonderful Life.

Until the deregulation of television listings in 1991, everybody I knew bought the Radio and TV Times (also a double issue at Christmas) The Radio Times published only BBC programmes and the TV Times, only ITV and Channel 4. During the holiday season, to keep track of what was on TV, both had to be read, the unwritten rule being: You must fold them into each other to re-access quickly.

RTAfter 1991, both publications were able to publish programmes from all channels. At this point I dumped the TV Times in favour of the Radio Times (it had the radio listing too, hence the name).

Satellite and Cable services also forced RT to change, moving the Radio information to a separate section near the back and listing digital services on the pages following terrestrial channels.

I began subscribing to cable TV services in about 2001, and with that came a very handy on-screen, programme guide. The guide only shows the next 24 hours of programmes but it’s quick and it’s easy to set reminders, switching channels at the start of the programme. Bundled in is Catch-up TV, BBC iPlayer and TV on Demand, all make by-passing the schedules easy, but I still had to buy the Christmas RT.

This year I took delivery of a HD recordable box. In addition to viewing the programme guide, I can set it to record the selected programme at the push of a button. It can also pause live TV – Nightmare – it’s like Groundhog Day when the kids get hold of it.

Radio Times is also available as a website. The site clearly has more than a hat-tip to the BBC site with a panel-style interface and rounded corners. The schedules have hCalendar microformats (remember them) so you could add your programme watching habits to Google or any other iCal enabled calendar.

micro

This isn’t the first publication to go digital, but I hope they never pull the hard copy like PHPArchitect have just done.

New technology! Bah humbug, give me the Radio Times to fall asleep to on Christmas day every year!

What microformats can do for you

I didn’t intend talking about this, I’ve mentioned it before.  I intended talking about something else, but since this is an integral part of that something else, I’ll talk about that another time.

The best tool for utilising microformats, is the Operator add-on.  Other people have tried creating tools for other browsers, but for minimal pain and quick results the Firefox/Operator combo is still the best.

After installing the add-on you will notice a new toolbar.  Many web pages fail to take advantage of microformats, so to save browser real-estate you can autohide the toolbar by clicking the Options button and checking the Auto-hide-the toolbar option, clever.

auto-hide-operator

To see what it can do; Go to Edge Hill University’s events. If you auto-hid the toolbar, it should magically appear, and if you didn’t you should see Contents, Events, Locations and Tagspaces all lit up. That tells us we’ve got microformats on the page, and this is where Operator earns its corn;  Clicking on one of the highlighted icons, we can see a number of services on offer.

Tagspaces
Tagspaces

Click the Tagspaces button, navigate to Education->Upcoming.  This takes you to Yahoo’s Upcoming site, and shows a list of similarly tagged events.  Nursing->YouTube lists videos related to Nursing.

The Edge Hill Events page also picks up a single location (Edge Hill University, which it gets from the information at the foot of every page) and dispays it under the Locations button.  We should really add the location data to each of the listed events too (note to self).  By clicking the button, we can see the exact location of Edge Hill through Google Maps (best), Yahoo maps and MapQuest.  You could export to a KML file to import into Google Earth too.

The Events button will show each event and allow us to add it to any iCal supported application.  Groupwise has a problem with this but if you use Google Calendar or Yahoo it will pre-populate a “new event” screen ready for submission.   If you don’t know what 30Boxes is, give it a try, its a very slick web-based calendar, I still prefer Google’s though.

It isn’t all roses in the Microformats garden.  Contacts, are not easy to import into Groupwise or Google.  For Groupwise its a two step process:

  1. Contacts->Export All or Contacts->Edge Hill University->Export Contact.
  2. Double click the exported hcard file and select the Contacts list you prefer to use.

With Google:

  1. You will need the “Get this to gmail” bookmarklet
  2. Click the bookmarklet when Contacts on the Operator toolbar is highlighted.
  3. From the Google Mail Contacts page, click import and import the downloaded file.

Oh yes, and clicking the Google Maps link from here is screwed up too.  This is either an Google Maps  or Operator problem as the contact information is impecably marked up, I’ve checked 😉

The import to Yahoo contacts works like a dream though.

For anybody who is determined to stick with IE and Safari users, you might want to try Left Logic’s bookmarklet, although I’ve not tested it in either of those browsers myself.  Finally if you’d like to add microformatted contact details on your own site, you can create the code easily using the hCard creator.

Mapping Wikipedia

Google Maps Wikipedia
Google have started adding photos and Wikipedia entries to their maps. Currently only activated when using maps.google.com you can click the “More” button to activate icons showing points of interest. I was amazed by how many things are tagged but slightly disappointed that Edge Hill isn’t on there yet.

It will be interesting to see if this is a one off, or with any luck shows that Google are going to be making more use of microformats and tagged pages in search results.

Microformats ready for mainstream use?

Continuing my Google Groupie status, it’s interesting to see that Google is following Yahoo’s lead in adopting microformats. I’ve thought for a while that microformats would be really useful but without a good way of using them then adoption would be very low. It’s a chicken and egg situation where browsers won’t be motivated to support them without a critical mass of content providers using them. Now an increasing number of sites support them and Firefox 3 looks set to support them too. Now all we need it better tools to create them for our own sites – I suspect it’s not something that can be done easily in Contribute!

@Media2007: Tantek Celik: Microformats, Building Blocks, and you

There has been a buzz about Microformats for over a year now, but until recently I was still confused by the concept. I had no idea how they could be implemented effectively and I was unsure of their relevance. The Microformats website is also rather academically written, and lacks the clear non-technical language that we designers prefer.

Tantek Celik is the Chief Technologist at Technorati an Internet search engine for searching blogs and the brains behind Microformats, he is a very likeable and dryly humourous speaker.

To try to illustrate what Microformats are quickly, hCard is a good example, it is a way of marking up your personal details: Name; Address, Email etc using XHTML code and an internationally recognised semantic structure. This code alone may provide structure, but really comes into its own when used with the Firefox add-on Operator 0.7, this allows you to instantly transfer the details from the page into your address book in Microsoft Outlook with a single click.

A second good example is hCalendar, this is a format for an events list. Events can be transferred into Google Calendar where desired.

Other examples are:

  • hReview: a standardised structure for user reviews on Web 2.0 sites, it is implemented nicely on Cork’d, a community for wine aficionados.
  • hResume: is a microformat for publishing resumes and CVs.

I’m sure there are more Web apps that Microformats can interact with; I will expand on this when I have researched the subject further.

With Microformats I think the emphasis is on the micro, they are small but useful formats. They could be very powerful if they were implemented universally and a mainstream browser incorporated Operator 0.7 into its interface, but for the time being their use seems to be confined to the IT community.

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